All you can do is roll your eyes…

Before the presentations of the individual hacks at Yahoo! Hack Day, they showed a bunch of photos and then some short video clips from the various news stories. Each of these stories included two elements:

  1. Beck. Yes, Beck was there.
  2. That the term “hacker” was a term with positive connotations. Those guys who steal your credit card numbers? Those guys are “crackers” and they have nothing to do with “hackers”.

Point number two was delivered with absolute relish and conviction by talking head after talking head.

Even the official Yahoo! blog for the event picked up on that particular theme:

As we said going in, we didn’t know what was going to happen at Hack Day. We never do.

We do, however, feel pretty safe in saying this: on September 30, 2006, in the company of friends, neighbors, and colleagues from all around the world, we took a much-maligned word back from the bad guys.

From here on in, “hacking” is a good thing to do.

Everytime I hear people talk about this point it just makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. The term “hacker” is probably misused by the media more than any other. Steven Levy makes the point in his 1984 book Hackers that those who use the term as synonymous with “criminal” do a great disservice to individuals who self described themselves as hackers. Lots of people try to draw the distinction that “crackers” are criminals, but “hackers” are the good guys. Frankly, I think this too is rather silly. There are certainly hackers who commit crimes, and there are (in fact, the vast majority) who do not. I prefer just to call criminals, well, criminals.

One thing is sure, despite the grandiose proclamation on Yahoo!’s hackday blog, is that we have not reclaimed this word. People will keep misusing it as long as media people keep misusing it, and since they for the most part are not hackers, and do not understand the motivations or actions of hackers, that won’t be anytime soon.

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